Starting Over At Hall Of Fame

December 22, 1993|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

Mark Amatucci prefers a direct approach, so let's get to the point: In his second stint as Calvert Hall's basketball coach, will he try to bring in the type of talent that made the Cardinals mythical national champions in 1982?

"The rules have changed," he began. "In 1978, Mark Amatucci could go into Madison Rec, watch kids play, talk to coaches, go into the home and recruit kids to come to Calvert Hall. There

were small amounts of scholarship money available, maybe $500. Tuition was $1,200 or $1,300.

"That all changed in 1982. Calvert Hall eliminated athletic scholarships. Tuition's $4,500 now. I can speak to student-athletes interested in Calvert Hall. They can come to open house, take the entrance exam, fill out financial aid forms. Then we'll see what happens."

Prep recruiting in Baltimore is akin to gambling in Casablanca -- nearly everyone plays, then professes shock when hearing that others do -- but Amatucci never balked at acknowledging the practice.

He also was blunt in his coaching style, with an up-tempo, take-no-prisoners game that piled up enemies as well as victories. But now Calvert Hall is closer to the bottom of the Catholic League than the top, and Amatucci needs all the friends he can muster.

After years of inviting controversy -- he is remembered for the labels "Baltimore's Team" and "We Work Harder" as well as his abrupt departures from Loyola College and Anne Arundel Community College -- has Amatucci discovered political correctness?

"I've learned you can accomplish what you want and at the same time keep people close at hand," Amatucci said. "I could have gotten along with them [opposing coaches] better the first time I was here, but I was 26, 27 years old, not as knowledgeable or as understanding as I am at 41."

Amatucci is in his office at the Calvert Hall guidance department, in between sessions with the 298 ninth-graders he counsels. He passed through 25 years ago, as a student here, and again 15 years ago, when he was turning Calvert Hall into the best high school team ever in Baltimore that didn't wear Dunbar on its chest.

When he left, Calvert Hall was atop the nation, not only the Catholic League. The competition isn't necessarily stronger than was then, but The Hall is back where it was in, say, 1977, when Amatucci began turning it into a basketball school. He headed down Loch Raven Boulevard to East Baltimore and enticed some of the city's best players to share his dream.

"Most of them came from Madison [Square Recreation Center]," Amatucci said. "David Blackwell was my first recruit. After him, there was Pop Tubman, Marc Wilson, Vernon Hill, Duane Ferrell, Eddie Oliver, Kurk Lee. They all came from Madison. Darryle and Paul Edwards, Paul Kinney, they came out of St. Mary's in Govans."

The climb was quick and dizzying, and in 1981-82 Calvert Hall was the mythical national champion, the only team from the Catholic League to win the Alhambra Invitational in Cumberland in the past 30 years. The lineup included Ferrell, who's now with the Atlanta Hawks; Wilson, who starred at Minnesota; and Paul Edwards, who was a Division II All-American for Mount St. Mary's.

The year before, the Cardinals beat Dunbar in a triple-overtime classic -- only the Dunbar-DeMatha game of 1973 ranks with it in Baltimore's modern prep annals -- but despite the prodding of everyone from then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer to ABC television, there was no rematch with Dunbar coach Bob Wade, Reggie Williams, Muggsy Bogues, David Wingate et al.

Amatucci departed for fame and fortune that was never realized -- leaving Calvert Hall for Loyola College in 1982 -- and eventually

had to scrap his way back to where he started.

College daze

When Calvert Hall athletic director Lou Eckerl hired Amatucci this year, he knew all about his history. He was introduced to Amatucci's competitiveness in 1970, when Eckerl was the star pitcher for Cardinal Gibbons and Amatucci for Calvert Hall. They split.

"We knew the problems Mark had in the past, but we're also aware of his accomplishments," Eckerl said. "Once the team gets accustomed to his philosophy and how demanding he is, the kids will be all right, but they're not there yet. He's demanding. When you step on the court, he wants 100 percent. If they're not giving that, they'll be asked to step off."

The demands extend beyond the court. Lost amid Amatucci's battles with administrators, referees and opposing coaches were the ones he had with his own players over the matter of academics. Amatucci brought inner city players to Calvert Hall and Loyola College, and he developed a support system that helped them succeed academically.

He gave Loyola College the only winning seasons it has had at Division I, but the program there began to crumble after a former player brought evidence of minor rules violations. The NCAA barred Amatucci from recruiting off-campus for a year, in part because he didn't take the penitent stance the infractions committee prefers, said a former Loyola official.

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